A/N - So much homework to do, and so little free time to write fanfiction! But, enough complaining. Just a little story (probably just a few chapters) with my take on the rebel leader, because I felt like it.
Disclaimer - If I owned Elder Scrolls or its characters, I would be one rich lady...and I'm definitely not.
Harsh and magnificent, frigid yet alive—some would say that she mirrored the land that she found herself fighting for. Orphaned and subsequently raised by the dark alleys of Solitude, her life had never been easy, but very few people in Skyrim could claim a charmed existence. When her childhood had been at its most difficult, she had often whimsically dreamed of returning to the land of her people. But with age came the realization that Valenwood was no better off—whether it was here with the Empire, or there with the Dominion, the life and individuality were slowly being choked out of both provinces. In time, she had eventually accepted Skyrim as her home, even though its inhabitants sometimes chose to remind her that it was an adopted one. When the rebellion began, the Empire and its agents clamped their hold down mercilessly upon the capital. She had witnessed their crushing brutality first hand on a daily basis, as supposed guards bullied and terrified residents of the slums, and that had been her cue to leave.
So, she had drifted like flotsam along the Karth river, taking odd jobs be it as a mercenary or a fence, traveling from town to town. That was the status quo, until she got herself stupidly tangled in a job for a Stormcloak sympathizer and had almost lost her head over it in Helgen. Little had she known that she had actually shared that fateful wagon ride with Ulfric Stormcloak himself. Up until that time, she hadn't really cared for either side in the civil war. Certainly, she despised the Empire for what it was doing to the country, but she hadn't been impressed by the supposed Sons of Skyrim either. However, her captors' idiotic insistence that she was a rebel, combined with the sheer fortitude she had seen displayed by the Stormcloaks in Helgen, had caused her to consider their plight. Afterward, a meeting in Riverwood with Ralof, her fellow escapee and savior, had convinced her to join their ranks, and she had eventually made her way to Windhelm to sign up.
Initially, they had tested both her loyalty and her abilities, and she had eventually proven to be a valuable asset by obtaining the Jagged Crown. She had fought tirelessly and viciously in battles to claim the Holds for the Stormcloaks, earning several cringe-worthy nicknames along the way from her fellow rebels. None of them could question her tenacity, and they all seemed appreciative, but something about the overall feel of Windhelm had caused anxiety within her.
After performing a rescue operation at Fort Neugrad, the Jarl had offered her a position among his court as Thane; but it required her to purchase property within Windhelm and to offer charitable assistance to its citizens. While aiding the people, she had heard some rather disturbing things regarding the elven residents and their treatment by the Jarl, but nameless shadows and their cowardly whispers deserved little attention. It wasn't until the accusations had been voiced by some prominent folk that she gave them any weight. Of course, she had a few run-ins with some of the typical bigoted types, most notably Rolff and his flapping gums, but she had thought that to be the minority opinion. She could ignore those idiots, but it disturbed her to think that the Stormcloak leader may share or foster those views. After everything she had done for the rebellion, she deserved to know if the man she was fighting to make High King of Skyrim detested her simply because of her race. It didn't seem plausible—he had never shown her any ill will, and he had always been receptive to her suggestions in strategic matters. She would give him a chance to answer the rumors before she assumed the worst.
She returned to Windhelm after obtaining the White Phial for its resident alchemist, which completed the requisite tasks for her office. Upon arrival at the gate, she sent word ahead to the steward that she was requesting an audience with the Jarl. A few hours later, after a brief respite at Hjerim to freshen up, she found herself entering the towering throne room of the Palace of the Kings. To her surprise, the Jarl was not on his throne, but his steward was there. "Greetings, Serah. Jarl Ulfric is in his strategy room. He will meet with you there."
She walked behind the man as he led her into the room nearby. She did not need his assistance; she had been in the room multiple times, but the steward had led the way and so she followed him.
"Welcome, Bone-Breaker. I assume that you are here to collect your title."
She shook her head in the affirmative, and he granted her the title Thane of Eastmarch. He also offered her a weapon from his armory, and told her that he would inform the guards of her title. When he finished speaking, she found her courage and opened her mouth to begin the unsavory conversation she was not looking forward to.
"May I speak with you a moment, Jarl?" She was well aware of the intense look that she possessed on her face, and she hoped that the man before her would recognize it as well.
He nodded, "Leave us, Jorleif." The steward looked momentarily surprised, and then left through the doorway to the throne room. When the door was closed, he started, "I know well the weighted look that you wear, so speak freely and frankly. I value your council, and I will hear it."
"I have heard some disturbing things, my Jarl. Namely, regarding the Dunmer and others of my kind."
His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, "Do you believe them to be true?"
"I have no belief yet; that is why I have come to you first…but I can't blindly ignore what I see with my own eyes."
"And what would that be?"
"That the elves are sequestered."
"That is of their own doing. There is no law written in my Hold that binds them there."
She scoffed, "So they choose to live cramped together like pigs in a sty."
He sighed, a deep tired groan, "No, they choose to live together because there is safety in numbers and I give them a place to do so."
She seethed in barely suppressed disgust, "Because you believe them below living with the Nords?"
He growled, "No, because I can protect them better in one place from the Rolff Stone-Fists of the world."
The ferocity of his response caught her off guard, and she had no retort. His lip curled in a slight smirk, "Surprised? You shouldn't be. It is my duty as Jarl to protect my people, regardless of their skin—even from each other if need be."
She paused, taking in his words before continuing, "Have you ignored their pleas?"
"Never—I realize that their situation is less than ideal—but the battle right now must be for all of Skyrim, and I have given them all that I could. I can't afford to send a guard to every perceived slight and miscommunication. Most of what has been brought to me has been petty; any real issues were dealt with."
He radiated frustration, throwing up his hands, "But, I am the Jarl, not a nursemaid, and I will not coddle anyone. Skyrim needs real men and women right now, not babes who bicker amongst themselves. I value anyone—be they elven, orsimer, or whatever—who actually contributes to this cause, as opposed to wallowing in their own miniscule issues."
A few moments of awkward silence passed between them, as the tension in the room slowly dissipated, before he continued, "Is there anything else you need to say?"
"No," she returned, too quickly.
"Then, I have a question for you, and I would appreciate the same level of candor."
He paused a moment, finding her eyes and meeting them, "Do you think so little of me that you had to ask?"
Her lips curled in a slight frown, "I needed to be sure that the man that I have been fighting to put on the throne won't see me banished or hung one day because of my elven blood."
He smiled then, a creeping grin, one that she had only seen on his face after receiving word of victory, one that she realized meant satisfaction.
"Obviously, you do not know enough about me, and that we will have to remedy."
"We can start by ridding ourselves of this formality nonsense—call me Ulfric. Galmar and Jorleif don't call me Jarl in conversation."
She hesitated, but stumbled through the words, "Very well, Ulfric."
"What is your given name?"
No one had called her by that in years. She had not gotten close enough to anyone, other than a select few in Solitude, to tell them her name. It seemed an innocent enough request, and yet strangely intimate. Her voice was low, almost shameful, "Feren."
He approached her, still holding her gaze, never wavering, "I have asked you to do much for the rebellion, and I am certain that there will be more in the future. In the last few months, I have come to rely heavily on your sword and your cunning—I trust you on the battlefield almost as much as Galmar, and I have known him since I was a boy. It is only fair that I treat you with that same level of respect, and I will do that from this day forward, I swear."
The intensity of his statement startled her, and she backpedaled slightly, "I do not doubt that you appreciate what I have done."
"Good. Then I'd like your opinion on our next move, which we can discuss over supper and ale." He beckoned with his hand, toward the door, with a look in his eye that reminded her of a hawk's predatory stare after spotting a field mouse.
"After you, Feren…"